The theme of the next Butch, Please! is Butch Icons - which got me thinking about what that means and who are some of mine.
I often think about my Great Aunty Lilly. Over dinner last year writer and activist Amrit Wilson encouraged me to write about her.
But I hesitated, if I’m honest. It’s hard to break the vow of silence so many of us tacitly take over our own queer lives and of those that came before us. I like to think of Lilly as a butch icon. But of course I never heard her say the word butch or any other word relating to her sexuality - and no one else in my family ever did either. At her funeral Lottie was described as her 'best friend'.
Lilly died a few years ago in her nineties. She was tall and strong and grew up with her 12 brothers and sisters in Accrington, Lancashire. She had been with Lottie since she was 14 years old. Even when Lottie married a man. They all lived together in a small house on a steep hill - one of many in Accrington. My mother referred to Lilly as ‘the lodger’.
I remember people always talking about her car - named Sue. She was almost famous for it. Every car she owned was called Sue. A woman behind the wheel, Lilly was free and driving her own destiny.
She once said that the war (WWII) was the best days of her life. She was young and got a job she wanted - working in a munitions factory welding aeroplane wings together and was well paid for it too.
After the war I think she went back to working in the cloth mills - but I’m not sure - I know that’s what Lottie did because she once showed me the tiny stool which she would sit on in front of the looms to rest her legs.
A year or so before Lilly died, with my family I visited her and her last living sister my Great Aunty Mable. She was old and hard of hearing and particularly bemused by the food in a restaurant we had taken her too. She was saving herself for fish and chips on the way home I think!
As they left I took the photo above. Just before, she had grabbed me and held me very tight, whispering into my ear so that no one else could hear - “live your life to the fullest”.
“I will” I said.
And I am.